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Simon Harris and the “Ireland is Full” hashtag

Simon Harris, Minister for Justice, recently bemoaned the hashtag ‘Ireland is Full’, describing it as ‘ridiculous’. No doubt he thinks the science is on his side. As a former Minister for Health, his scientific credentials are strong.  

In case you do not remember, this is basic junior cert, or even primary school science. Everyone that attended school in Ireland remembers the experiment that proves this. It is the one about the jar. It is clearly demonstrable even to the ‘Far Right’.

A teacher fills a jar with stones. He shows it to his students. Is the jar full? They say yes. No more stones can fit in it.

True, says the teacher. No more stones can fit in it, but we can put these pebbles in. He drops a handful of pebbles and they filter into the spaces provided. Is it full now, he asks?

Yes, say the students, not knowing that the teacher also had a handful of sand. Smiling proudly, having outwitted the children once more, he releases the sand into the jar, that fills up the remaining cavities between the pebbles and the stones. ‘Now, is it full?’

Students, getting wise to the teacher, say ‘No!’. But they are unable to say why not. It looks full. The teacher, benefitting from his science degree, smiles broadly, taking out a glass and filling it with water. ‘Watch this’, as he pours the water into the jar, displacing the air and filling the glass to the brim.

‘Now it is full. Almost.’ He picks up the jar and shakes it. The water displaces any remaining air pockets. There is room for more water!

Simon Harris is often criticised for his lack of a 3rd level qualification, having dropped out of journalism to pursue a career in politics. Patently, he took the wrong course, pointing to all that is wrong with education system, forcing him to make adult decisions about his career at the tender age of 18.

His calling was clearly science, as he has a firm grasp of its basic principles. Ireland is not full. Obviously, the stones are the people in houses. There are no more of them. The pebbles, these are the people in hotels that have been leased to the state as emergency accommodation. The sand, these are the people who can be put in emergency accommodation adapted from unused buildings.  The water, these are the tents and tent villages popping up across the country, in parks and in doorways. Now, give it a shake once more, and there is room for people to sit on chairs and in doorways with a voucher for some food.

Clearly, Ireland is not full. That is following the science.

Reductio ad absurdum, Ireland has lots of space. Green fields. Forests. Instead of selling them to UK companies, we could give everyone a tree to sleep under. The options are boundless. The capacity is unlimited.

This is the type of gaslighting that the government engages in, not just in this issue, but on all. It places itself against a large portion of its citizenry. It refuses to acknowledge that their issues are even held in good faith. It seeks to marginalise them by labelling them ‘far right’.

It takes a position that it, and those who agree with it, are 100% correct, 100% well-meaning, and 100% doing the right thing. It refuses to cede any ground that there may be issues. If there are issues, they are mere tweaks to the system that are needed. Nothing to see here.

It demands that those who disagree, who protest, be considered 100% wrong, 100% badly-intentioned, and 100% mistaken. And it will defend itself to the death whenever its general will is opposed. It is government v the citizens.

Just as it adopts a policy of defending itself to the last minute, using its unlimited resources to drag grieving families through the courts until they have depleted their means in seeking justice, before agreeing to settle a case; just as it refuses to acknowledge its policies on nursing homes may have been mistaken as 44 cases are forced to be dragged through the courts; just as it battened down the hatches as revealed in a 2011 Department of Health 2011 memo purporting to set out a legal strategy to thwart refunds of potentially billions of euro to people wrongly charged for nursing home care over 30 years, the government views itself as the senior management team of the Ireland Inc, with its citizens not as shareholders but as customers.

The approach is a far cry from Lincoln’s clarion call of a government of the people, by the people, for the people.


David Reynolds

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